Saturday, March 3, 2018
Celebrating Culture & Diversity
Each February I work with a student leadership group at my high school to coordinate an event called Ethnic Fest. It is our celebration of culture and diversity. This year I did a little write up for the YourHub section of the Denver Post. Here's my review of the night:
Cherry Creek Students Get Their Culture On
From eating crepes and churros to listening to Celtic guitar and K-Pop to dancing to West African drums and Polynesian rhythms, Cherry Creek high school students came together on the first day of February to embrace the many ethnic and cultural niches of its community. In what is billed as “a night of food, friends, and fun,” Ethnic Fest is Cherry Creek’s annual celebration of culture and diversity. Hundreds of Creek students filled the halls of the IC and Fine Arts buildings as they visited a seemingly endless string of booths hosted by clubs such as the African-American Leadership Council, Chinese Honor Society, and the International Exchange Club. Students also had the opportunity to visit four separate stage and performance areas for musical, dance, and spoken-word performances.
Ethnic Fest dates back to 1994 when a group of students first envisioned an event that could honor the growing diversity and varied backgrounds that make up the Creek community. The evening of cultural celebration is now sponsored yearly by Cherry Creek’s Youth Advisory Board, which organizes and plans the event through collaboration with other student clubs as well as outside organization such as music and dance schools. This year’s event featured musical performances by Skean Dubh Celtic guitar, the Colorado Mestizo Dancers, a Mexican folk dance group, the Kalama Polynesian Dancers, and Koffi Togo, a West African drummer. “I love Koffi Togo,” one Creek parent noted, “He’s just so entertaining but also great to listen to as he explains the various instruments and beats. And, it’s so fun that he gets the kids up drumming and dancing.” Audience participation was also a big part of the Kalama performance, as the lead dancer encouraged students to join him on the stage as he narrated the story behind the dances.
Other performances featured the talents of current Creek students. The tempo of the evening was set from the minute fest visitors entered the doors as Creek senior and working DJ Ari Kutzer welcomed the crowd with beats and popular music. His professional sound system was helpful for several performers on the Activities stage, including the Mestizo dancers. Kutzer also pumped up the crowd toward the end of the evening as a group of freshman students performed a set of K-Pop, choreographed Korean dance music. The group’s leader had visited Ethnic Fest the year before after seeing posters at West Middle School. “When I saw students performing last year,” she told event organizers, “I just knew I had to be a part of it.”
Other students performed full musical sets in the school’s Black Box Theater, and they shared individual songs, poems, and spoken word performances in the Open-Mic area hosted by the Youth Advisory Board and emceed by district alum and slam poet, Jovan Mays. A jazz/rock/funk quartet known as ACI, headed by seniors Clare Hudson and Hank Friedman, played to a full house in their fourth consecutive Ethnic Fest. And, new to the Ethnic Fest student line-up this year was sophomore David Weinstein who performed an eclectic set of songs on the guitar and piano.
Ethnic Fest is designed to be informative as well as entertaining, and many of the booths and performances offered cultural education. Creek parent Donna Chrisjohn (Sicangu and Dine) offered a presentation and performance honoring the culture of indigenous peoples. Ms. Chrisjohn’s daughter joined her at a booth featuring various pieces of Lakota art and traditional apparel. Her daughter modeled clothing and dance as mom shared stories of Lakota history. The Ghana Education Collaborative, a student group, hosted a booth selling bracelets and jewelry to raise money for health and literacy efforts in the West African country. Eco-Action club, another student organization, used its booth to inform visitors about renewable energy as they also raised money in collaboration with Grid Alternative, a Denver-based non-profit. The club’s goal is to raise $5000 to install solar panels on the home of a veteran living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Ethnic Fest was a night full of culture and connections. For some students, their enthusiasm for the evening pushed the limits of the 5pm-8pm event schedule. Even as clubs were cleaning up their booths, and a student crew was taking down the lights and array of multicultural flags and banners, senior Andrea Arias didn’t want to leave at the end of the night, hoping for one more poem at the open mic. “I can’t believe it’s my last Ethnic Fest,” she said. “I’ve come all four years of high school, and it’s my favorite night. I’m really going to miss it next year.”